May 28, 2015

National Security, Community Engagement & the role of the Media Speech – 28 May 2015

I rise to speak on the appropriation bills for 2015-16 and to talk in general about the challenges we confront as a local community in my electorate and as a country. I am an optimist when it comes to our country’s future, and I actually believe that our best days are yet to come; they lie ahead of us. But we all acknowledge in this place that our country faces some economic and security challenges that we must address. We now live in a globally interconnected world that is changing the way we do business and forcing nations to adapt their economies to the 21st century. We are also seeing a growing world of disorder developing, as evidenced by the growing terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State and other geopolitical challenges, such as the issue we are dealing with in China’s activities in the South China Sea.

Our nation cannot get left behind economically, because we are looking at nations like Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States innovating and manufacturing the goods of the 21st century. Our nation also cannot afford to neglect the global threats of terrorism, geopolitical challenges and terrorist threats, as I have said, and the growing world of disorder. Australians are looking for political leadership to address these great economic, geopolitical and national security challenges. Australians are looking for security. They want to know that we collectively in this parliament are working to keep the country safe. Australians are also looking for new opportunities to prosper and to continue to plan their futures with some sense of certainty in the 21st century.

In my electorate of Holt, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, my community is very focused on our jobs in providing the necessary security and opportunities for people in our constituencies. They want to be kept safe, as a starting point. They want to know that there is some degree of economic certainty so that they can have some planning for the jobs of the future. And they want the necessary social infrastructure—because they pay their taxes—to succeed in this 21st century. They want the guarantees of greater opportunities and security for their children as well.

I want to touch on something that really is a primary responsibility of government and an issue that I am completely and unequivocally committed to, and that is national security. We cannot have a debate in this place, regardless of what side of the fence we sit on, without both sides being unambiguously committed to keeping our community and our country safe. As people know, I am the deputy chair of the intelligence and security committee, and I work—and Labor works, particularly through the leadership of Bill Shorten—hand in hand with the federal government to keep our community safe.

You might ask, Deputy Speaker, why I raise this. Our electorate has been profoundly affected by terrorism events. In my constituency there was an event on 23 September 2014 where an attack was conducted by an assailant on two police officers. They were stabbed and then the assailant was shot. The intent of that particular activity by the assailant was to kill the police officers and, if successful, to proceed to kill others in the police station. The activity was Islamic State-inspired. Associates of that particular assailant have been subsequently charged and there were the Anzac Day arrests, as they are known. I was privy to information concerning the particular activities of those individuals and remain so in my role as deputy chair of the committee and also working with the very brave police officers that service and protect our community, both AFP and Victoria Police, and our intelligence agencies.

What transpired in the discourse in the media with respect to these matters was an implied criticism of the police officers, even the police officers on the night of the event, and the government’s handling of national security. I just want to make it absolutely and unequivocally clear to those that may have read that media report that the media reporting was irresponsible, it did not take into account the real events of what transpired on that evening and it was not in the national interest. I also want those police officers—AFP and Vic Pol—and our security agencies to know that I support them, our community supports them, our government supports them and the opposition, led by Bill Shorten, supports them 100 per cent. That support is not equivocal support; it is unequivocal support for the job that our security agencies, the Victorian police and our AFP do. There is not any greater challenge for a government, or an opposition, for that matter, than to ensure that we keep our community safe.

When reading the media reportage, I was quite surprised by the cavalier way that the lives of those that were involved in that incident were dragged, if you want, through the print press in a very inappropriate way. To some extent, it leads me to ask: in reality, in the reporting of these events, and even to some extent in terms of the broad discussion—and it ties into what I observed during the Lindt cafe siege—what role does the media play? In my discussions—which I will touch on a bit further on—with leaders of the Islamic community, who are working hand in hand with us in my constituency to deal with this threat, and with the AFP officers, the intelligence agencies and the officers of Victoria Police, the question we have is: where is the media’s responsibility in terms of reporting this?

I would put that to you, Deputy Speaker, to this chamber and to this House, as I did to a meeting that I convened in my constituency on 30 April. I would like to thank the Australian government and the office of the Attorney-General, George Brandis, as well as the Prime Minister’s office, for facilitating this meeting. This was a meeting that I convened as a summit between the officers from Victoria Police, the AFP, members of the Attorney-General’s Department and our local Muslim community leaders. We collectively sat together to work out how we could deal with this challenge collectively—and I emphasise ‘collectively’.

Of course, these matters were not reported because they were not raised. The challenge that we have in dealing with this issue is how do we get appropriate reporting because of the very intensive and understandable sensitivities? It occurs to me, in terms of how Muslim community leaders are portrayed, as well as my direct firsthand experience of the inappropriate reporting of our police officers and their activities and what occurred on that particular night, as well as what I observed in the Lindt cafe siege, that the media—and I will be putting this forward to government—need to have a code of conduct.

I observed with the Lindt cafe siege—as someone who has experience in counterterrorism operations and has had tactical-response discussions—the media filming counterterrorism officers who were in strategic positions. Had the perpetrator seen that, he would have taken some form of action. It is not just me saying this. This is direct feedback I have received about the feelings of officers on the ground whose lives were put in danger by this media coverage. The media were televising a tactical operation while it was being conducted.

It deeply concerned me that the first 60 minutes of that event were taken as a live feed. I will not discuss in graphic detail what could have happened in those 60 minutes, but I say to this chamber: imagine more than one terrorist having had the opportunity to make a point. It would have profoundly impacted on the psychology of the Australian community. Why was that feed allowed to occur? I make no criticism of the TV channel that broadcast it, but I would respectfully submit that this should not have been allowed to occur. While I was watching that live feed and subsequent visual media reportage, of the tactical operation being conducted by our brave officers, people from overseas organisations were contacting me asking what was going on. They asked why this footage was allowed to be shown live and tactically. That, in my mind, had a strong impact on what occurred that day.

I do not seek to blame the media for that, but it is the responsibility of legislators, when they see a difficulty, to ask that measures be taken to protect the people we have deployed on the ground—in this case, the special operations group, New South Wales Police and others who were there. I will be putting forward, through the committee and discussions with others, that we do need a code of conduct on how the media report, where they are situated and what media can be sent.

Unfortunately, those who want to do us further harm have studied that Lindt cafe footage very carefully and have learnt a lot about how we might respond to a terrorist event. Again, I do not blame the media but it is not in our interests to continue to portray or show events of that type. I respectfully put forward that we need to deal with that. I include the issue of reportage of individuals.

I want to emphasise that this meeting was a collective gathering of Victorian police, AFP, members of the Attorney-General’s Department and, very importantly, our local Muslim community leaders—it is, in some ways, the way they are portrayed as well. There was agreement across the board that the media should have been very careful about the way they reported the siege. There were pictures of a young man, for example, who was not charged. I thought we had a concept in this country of innocent until proven guilty, so what was the picture of that young man doing there? Do you think that helped the endeavours of our law-enforcement people working collaboratively with security agencies? No it did not.

It raises the point of how we deal with this. Words are bullets. In the space where we are trying to engage local Muslim communities, when we are trying to deal with and support our brave men and women who work to keep us safe, in our security services, these things can damage our coordinated efforts in dealing with this type of issue. I seek not to limit press freedom—but the press have to have a responsibility. There must be some responsibility for appropriate and considered reporting of events. It is our country collectively that is dealing with this threat. We did not ask for this threat to visit our shores, but we can deal with it. How we deal with it is: collectively.

I believe the solution is with our community coming together. Australians are the best in the world—as an Australian politician, I would say that—in dealing with crises: bushfires, floods, things that happen overseas. There is a spirit that runs through the soul of this country which is unique in all of the world. We come together collectively, for the common good, to deal with these issues. I believe we will do the same thing again with this particular threat, but we need everyone involved in that process. We do not need people to be sitting on the sidelines making inappropriate comments about communities or our law enforcement agencies or our agencies. Words are bullets.

So I give a commitment to all of those that were at the summit that I will continue to push for us to solve this dilemma collectively. We will face future challenges—there is no doubt about that—but we can come together for the common good. We can solve this problem collectively. I will do everything within my power to support the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to ensure that that happens.


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